Legal Q&A: adults purchasing alcohol for minors in pubs

By Jonathan Smith, partner, Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Licensing hub: Can I refuse service to someone suspected of purchasing alcohol for a minor? (Credit: Getty/ Peter Cade / Pictured: Jonathan Smith)
Licensing hub: Can I refuse service to someone suspected of purchasing alcohol for a minor? (Credit: Getty/ Peter Cade / Pictured: Jonathan Smith)

Related tags Licensing Legal Legislation Poppleston allen

This week’s column from licensing firm Poppleston Allen advises operators how to proceed in situations involving customers over the age of 18 attempting to purchase alcohol in pubs for patrons that are under 18.

Q: ​I recently saw two older people who I assumed to be parents and their child come into my pub. I believed their child, if that is who she was, to be a teenager but to be under the age of 18​. They went to sit in a corner and the person who I believed was the mother came to the bar and ordered two alcoholic drinks and one non-alcoholic drink. I had seen them talking as they came into the pub and looking over to the bar before sitting towards the back of our pub.

One of the alcoholic drinks they bought would, in my opinion, appeal to the ‘younger’ drinker. I asked her for the age of the third person with them. She confirmed it was their daughter, that she was over the age of 18 but she did not have any identification with her.

I decided to refuse them service because I was not satisfied that the two alcoholic drinks were for the two older customers, and that one of the drinks would be given to the younger person. Was I within my rights to do so, because the mother was very upset and swore she would never come into the pub again?


A: ​We have heard stories similar to this, but it is usually in the context of a shop scenario where alcohol is refused to be sold to an adult where the cashier has reasonable cause to believe that the alcohol may in fact be being bought by the adult to be consumed by a child. You are quite within your rights to refuse service.

Ironically, you wouldn't be committing any offence if you did sell to the mother, who then gives it to her daughter; instead the offence would actually be committed by the mother in buying the alcohol for somebody who was under the age of 18. However, you would then be committing an offence if you were to allow someone under the age of 18 to then drink the alcohol within your pub.

You are under no obligation to make the sale simply because the adult told you that the drink was for them and not the younger person. If you had reasonable cause to believe the drink was for the child then you did the right thing in refusing the sale of alcohol to the mother.

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